Statistics- African Americans in college and female African American inventors
As of 1991 (about 25 years after Dr. Bath attended college) only 12% of African Americans graduated from college. As of 2005, the number had only increased to about 18%. (NAACP) Exact statistics for the 1960s could not be located, although it can be assumed that the percentage of African Americans who graduated from college was much less than 12%. It can also be assumed that due to sexism, most of the African Americans who did receive a higher education in the 1960s were male.
Sadly, Dr. Bath is nearly one of a kind when it comes to African American women inventors in the field of science and technology. After a search of female African American inventors, only five inventions that were scientific or truly technological could be located. Most of the inventions were typically “female”- clothing, cooking utensils, hair brushes, etc. The first patent ever issued to an African American woman was issued to Sarah Goode in 1885 for a folding cabinet bed. As of 2005, roughly 45 patents have been issued to 35 African American women. Dr. Bath holds five of those patents. For the full list, see African American Women Inventors
Barriers to Success:
Dr. Bath achieved her education during a time when racism was still a common occurrence. Although she lived in New York, there were still many Jim Crow laws (state and local laws that permitted segregation and other crimes against African Americans) enforced up until the 1980s. Brown v. Topeka Board of Education formally made segregation illegal in 1954, but that does not mean it was an easy journey in the public school system for Dr. Bath. In a brief email interview, she explained how racism was something she was forced to face throughout her life. Sexism also played a major role. As a child, she knew no female physicians. It was a male-dominated profession. In order to avoid the “glass ceilings” of American culture, she was forced to take her research to Europe.
At Drew and UCLA, she also experienced racism and sexism, despite the fact that the universities publicly condemned it and revered equality. African Americans were even excluded from many medical schools and medical communities. When she became the first female faculty member at UCLA, she was offered office space in the basement next to the lab animals. She refused to accept this as her office space. She explains, “I didn’t say it was racist or sexist. I said it was inappropriate and succeeded in getting acceptable office space. I decided I was just going to do my work.” (National Library of Medicine)